Plan to scan: QR codes and HTML email

The other week, Stig, our resident support superability, responded to a curly ticket in regards to whether it was possible to add a unique QR code for each recipient. After a little research on his part, the answer was a yes, using Google’s Chart Tools. I’d never heard of Chart Tools, but once I’d started playing, I realized that many of you may find it useful when sending invitations, coupons and other printable things.

Now, QR codes have a bit of a bad reputation. That’s because they’re often used in rather ridiculous ways. So initially, I was a bit skeptical about writing a post, but then I came to realize that they can also be used for good, too. We’ll look at some examples in a bit.

Adding QR codes to your email campaign

Google has done a lot of things to improve the lot of humankind and providing dynamically-generated graphics is one of these things. In the case of QR codes, they have a ‘Infographics’ service - simply append a root URL with parameters, place this final URL in an <img> tag and voila! A static PNG will be returned to you. Here’s an example:

URL: http://www.campaignmonitor.com/blog

Code:

<img src="https://chart.googleapis.com/chart?chs=100x100&cht=qr&chl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.campaignmonitor.com%2Fblog" /> 

Result:

The Infographics docs include parameters for specifying dimensions and data. Note that the data passed (eg. http://yourpage.com) doesn’t have to be a URL, but does have to be URL-encoded - you can use a URL Encoder to do this.

Once you have this final URL, you can simply add it to your HTML email code. Or, if you want to make it unique and personally identifiable (say, for tracking referrals), you can append it with a template tag:

<img src="https://chart.googleapis.com/chart?chs=100x100&cht=qr&chl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.campaignmonitor.com%2Fblog%3Femail%3D[email]" /> 

We used [email] here, but you can use custom fields, instead.

Sensible uses for QR codes in email (and elsewhere)

Now we’re both QR code experts, lets look at some of their practical applications. First up, QR codes are near-useless on the web and in email clients, as links are by far preferable. But on printed messages, these codes are in their element. Some examples include:

  • Generating unique event tickets. If a gig you’re organizing requires tickets, have these sent via email with a unique QR code for a bit of extra security. Patrons can then either bring a printed copy of their ticket or present their mobile device for scanning and validation at the venue.
  • Adding a discount code for scanning in-store. If you use an e-commerce platform like Shopify for managing orders at a physical store, you can send out an email to your customers featuring a ‘discount URL’ as QR code. This code can be printed by the customer or displayed on their mobile device, brought in-store and then scanned to place an order. A neat way to incentivize walk-ins!
  • Pointing would-be subscribers to your email signup form. Away from the inbox, you can do away with dog-eared ‘sign up to our newsletter!’ paper forms by featuring a QR code in your cafe/market stall/shop that points to your subscribe form. From a privacy perspective, this is more comforting than a paper list, it allows people to sign up in their own time, plus it’s subtle encouragement to check out your website, too.

Finally, I couldn’t wrap up this post without giving Australian artist Yiying Lu a hat-tip. Snapping the handpainted QR code in her artworks takes you through to this magnificent ‘making of’ video:

Do you, or your clients use QR codes in marketing campaigns? Are they a hassle to use, or hustlin’? Let us know in the comments below.

Posted by Ros Hodgekiss

7 Comments

  • Salvador Faria
    11th June

    wow, very simple and useful

  • Alex
    12th June

    I’m sure you’re expecting a barrage of comments about how useless these are, so I’ll go first!

    I’m struggling to think of any good example where putting a QR code in to an email is going to be of any benefit whatsoever. CM, you were doing so well until this. What’s happened? The examples you give strike me as something that you were perhaps clutching at straws to come up with.

    I wrote a piece on the subject of QR Codes, with my tuppence, and I still think it rings true. QR Codes are utterly useless.

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    12th June

    Hey Alex, thanks for your 2c here - we actually had a bit of a chat before putting up this post and the feeling was that the majority of the time, QR codes tend to be applied in strange and astounding ways. We’ve linked to wtfqrcodes.com to make this pretty clear. But then again, I’ve been to events where all you’ve had to do is present a barcode/QR code on your phone to get through the door - that’s thoroughly impressed me. Turning them into functional art is pretty impressive, too.

    Because we personally don’t use them in our day-to-day just yet should be a reason for us to write them off completely - according to ComScore, 14 million Americans do per month.

    Thank you for sharing your post up there - it’s very clear that you’re passionate about QR codes and we’re certainly keen to see if our readers are just as passionate for, or against their use as you are :D

  • Dana
    12th June

    I am also of the opinion that QR Codes are mostly worthless, for all of the reasons you already know, but primarily because there seem to be very few valid applications for them.  Particularly in email.  As you stated, it needs to be something that is printed off in order for an emailed QR Code to have value (but try telling that to the fad-fanatics; my brother’s boss insisted on including a QR code in company emails that links to the company website. Yikes.).  I cannot think of a single reason we’d want to include a QR code in any of my company’s emails (or print materials, for that matter!).  The only practical QR code application I’ve seen so far is on a business card—when scanned, it automatically adds the person’s contact information to your phone.  Now that one’s actually useful.

  • David Monstudio
    13th June

    In my case, that will be very useful !! (I’m using qrcode for managing participant on event site)

  • Charles-Henri Lison
    18th June

    It’s also an easiest way to download an application for mobile phone instead of typing the name on the phone’s keyboard.

    Use-case: the user is browsing your website on his desktop and you’re promoting a mobile application, e.g. for a bank website. You suggest that the customers can also do their money transfers with their smartphone. Less pain, just scan the QR Code on the screen instead of searching the application on the smartphone.

    It exists thousand of interesting uses-cases, identify animals, trace microchips, postal system, etc. QR Code are awesome and can be use in the day to day life, it’s just a question of who you are in your industry.

  • Hans Duedal
    9th July

    Beware that using google chart tools to generate QR codes is deprecated. It clearly states it on the docs: https://developers.google.com/chart/infographics/

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